How Do I Say This Line?

An actor recently asked for my advice on one of his auditions. He was struggling with a particular line and asked, “how do I say this line and should I cough before or after the line?”

How Do I Say This Line?

He was thinking about it all wrong, in my opinion. If you are in a scene and you are thinking about how to say a line or if you should perform some action, you are in your own head and you are acting rather than living. In our real day-to-day conversations, we don’t think, “hey, should I look away here,” we just do it because it is natural.

When I’m preparing for an audition, I spend more time figuring out who I am and what put me in that moment and what the who, what, where, and why’s are in the scene instead of focusing on memorizing lines or actions. The important thing in any audition or performance is the truth in the scene and you can only achieve that truth by being connected and actually living in the life of a character. Once you do that, your dialog (as long as you are very familiar with it) and actions should flow organically. You won’t need to worry about how to say a line, if you know the emotion and feeling behind it. That’s where the real work comes in.

When I read a script for the first time, I read everything thoroughly. If my agent sends me an email that contains sides for other characters (or if I can find them on ShowFax), I read those too as they provide clues to who I am and how the other characters feel about me. I once prepped for an audition where I only had access to my sides and I played the role very angry. After doing my character and scene work, I got access to some of the other character sides and I came to realize, through other people referencing me in the script and what I had been through, it changed the emotional root of my performance. Had I gone strictkly by the words and actions on the page, I would have played it angry, but once I discovered more about my character, I realized what I was saying was based not in anger, but based in fear and it changed the performance. Had I not accessed those other sides, I think I would have made the wrong choice. If you don’t have access to any other information, you still have to make your choices and discover the emotion behind the text.

how do I say this line

Here’s a photo that’s totally unrelated to this article, but I look good anyway.

So what about where to cough? The notes read “coughs a bit,” so where do you cough? Wherever it feels natural or maybe not at all. Maybe you chuckle instead. Of course, the dialog is important and the words on the page are important, but the emotion and truth are more important because they give life to the moment and make it more interesting. If the cough doesn’t elicit some specific response from the other character (e.g. “are you getting sick?”), then don’t think about it. Do what feels natural.

So, you’ve done all of your character and scene work and you nail the audition. Now, you have to take a step back because the real work has begun and you have a little more time to prepare for the shoot than you did for the audition. Now, the words count for a lot… you have to get them close to perfect because you’ll have a script supervisor listening to every word. Of course, some directors will allow you to play with the dialog a bit, while others want it word perfect. You still have to remain emotionally and physically connected to the scene (which will be easier because you’ll have other great actors giving you the good stuff), but you also have to know that dialog. You also have to your actions and keep them consistent take after take. If you wave when you say, “Hi, Johnny,” you have to wave in that exact spot every time or risk making an editor hate you. But, once you are comfortable with the dialog and have built the actions into your muscle memory, you can still remain connected emotionally without having to think about the actions or words.

You also have to be prepared to forget everything and change it up on the fly….

I recently did an audition for a major network television show. As part of the audition prep, I wrote a few pages about my character and his relationships with the others in the scene. I was incredibly well connected to him and confident in my choices. When we got to set and did the first rehearsal, the director wanted something different. The core emotion guiding me through the scene was love, but the director wanted anger — it was a completely different place than the choice I had made, but I did some quick reworking of my relationships in my head and rolled with it. As an actor, it is my job to bring the director’s vision to life, even if it is different from my vision. We rehearsed the scene his way, and it really worked beautifully and that’s the way we shot the scene. So, you’ve got to be flexible and not so firm in your choices that you can’t handle a redirect.

Well, this post was a bit rambling. But, the point is that while the words and actions are important in the scene, the emotional core is more important. Once you’ve made those choices, the words and the actions will come more naturally and there will be truth. You won’t have to think about how to say a line or where to point, it will flow organically because there is life in the moment.

So, do I still get up in my own head during an audition?  You betcha… we all do at times.  But when I start stepping back into my own life, I just take a beat and reconnect and roll with it.

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